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News Analysis: Egypt's new constitution lacks national consensus

By Mahmoud Fouly, Tian Dongdong

CAIRO, Dec. 29 — Egypt has recently approved a new constitution by 63.8 percent of votes in a controversial referendum, which was participated by just one-third of eligible voters, reflecting a lack of national consensus.

Of the country's 91 million people, more than 51.9 million people were eligible voters, but only about 10.6 million voted for the constitution.

The constitutional referendum, held on Dec. 15 and 22 in two stages, was preceded by bloody clashes between President Mohamed Morsi's supporters, mostly Islamists and conservatives, and his opponents, mostly liberals, leftists and Copts.

"For many of those who boycotted the referendum, it was a referendum on the performance of President Morsi and his Islamist supporters rather than on the draft constitution," Akram Hossam, political analyst and researcher at National Center for Middle East Studies, told Xinhua.

The mediocre turnout reflects "a general state of dissatisfaction" of the Egyptian people with Morsi's performance, said Hossam.

"Out of disappointment, many citizens refrained from taking part in the referendum," Hossam said. "This constitution was written by an Islamist-dominated assembly, so it does not express national consensus."

The unprecedented conflicts between the presidency with its Islamist supporters, and the opposition, judiciary and even the media, resulted in bloody clashes and general despair toward the political scene.

Many opponents had suspected that Islamists would pass the draft constitution "through fraud," and therefore chose to boycott the referendum.

"I wanted to say 'No' in the beginning. But with the increasing propaganda made by Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and clerics who argued that saying "Yes" to the constitution is saying "Yes" to the Sharia (Islamic Law), I felt the constitution would pass anyway, regardless of my vote," said Dalia Gamal, a 32- year-old veiled teacher who boycotted the referendum.

Her friend Nahla Mahmoud, who is also veiled, said that she would not take part in a referendum "stained with blood," stressing that not all veiled women and bearded men followed Islamists blindly and approved the constitution.

Atef Shehab, political analyst and member of Lawyers' Syndicate, told Xinhua that the voters are simply "fed up with" repeated elections and referendums after Hosni Mubarak's fall in January 2011.

Over the past two years, Egyptians took part in a referendum on constitutional amendments, followed by parliamentary elections and their run-offs, two rounds of presidential elections and the recent constitutional referendum, Shehab noted.

Rabie Abdel-Fattah, a 45-year-old employee at the Post Authority, told Xinhua that he did not join "because there had been too many elections. We had hoped for stability and better living conditions, but the elections all turned out to be vain."

"It's not even worth the transportation fee I'd spend to go to cast my vote. The political scene is a mess," said Ayman Salah, a 50-year-old taxi driver.

Analysts forecast further turmoil and chaos in Egypt's political life, which would impact on the country's social and economic conditions.

"The referendum result does not reflect national consensus, but division in the Egyptian society… A constitution is a social contract that requires consent and consensus in the first place," said Ayman Abdel-Wahhab, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"National dialogue is the only solution," Abdel-Wahhab told Xinhua.

In his speech on Wednesday evening, President Morsi hailed the new constitution and urged for a new stage of national dialogue, work and production. However, the opposition bloc dubbed "National Salvation Front" issued a statement later, in which they rejected the new constitution and called for nationwide anti-Morsi protests on Jan. 25, 2013. (PNA/Xinhua)

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